Does Age Matter?

If she’s old enough to be his mother, then the relationship is seen as distasteful. But wines get better with age; surely the same can be said of partners.

While relationships involving older men and much younger women are still viewed as a little suspect, there is often a very clear bias against relationships involving older women and much younger men. In recent years, however, shows like Sex in the City, Desperate Housewives and Cougar Town have helped to advance the cause of cougars.

For Hollywood actresses, dating much younger men has become a way of subtly declaring their success — no longer does a woman need to depend on a man for financial security.

Dr. Robynne Healey, gender specialist and history professor at Trinity Western University, thinks cougars have chosen to resist some pretty deep-set traditions. She suggests that relationships between older women and younger men have been less socially acceptable than the opposite because of the original purpose of the family: to create and support children.

A relationship with a woman who is past her reproductive age is perceived as being  not for the creation of children, but for sex. Despite the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s, society still finds this kind of relationship unacceptable.

But what was God’s original purpose for marriage? In Genesis 2:18 the Lord says, “It isn’t good for man to be alone,” acknowledging Adam’s emotional vulnerability if left by himself. “I will make a companion for him, a helper suited to his needs.”

God then caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep, took a rib from the resting man’s body and fashioned it into a woman. Eve was created to help Adam, but more than that she was created to enter into an intimate partnership with Adam and to provide companionship. Upon awaking from his sleep Adam exclaimed, “This is it!”

Perhaps it was the benchmark God set by allowing Adam to appear on this earth before Eve that has led many to believe that a man in a relationship should be older and superior.

Too large an age gap can present problems in relationships regardless of whether it is the man or the woman who is older.

In ancient Athens, where it was common for 15-year-old women to marry men twice their age, wives often had 30 years to live after their husbands died. In ancient Rome, too, women married  men 10 years older than themselves, often outliving them.

General health is affected by age, which can alter the roles and responsibilities of spouses who are forced to find or administer special care.

Another problem to consider is the fast pace of cultural change. The recent explosion of social media through Facebook and Twitter have radically changed the way some communicate. Not having shared experiences of a certain era might make it more difficult to relate to one another.

Definitions of the role of a spouse also morph over time. A baby boomer may favour more of a male-dominated relationship, while someone from Generation Y may be more comfortable with an egalitarian partnership.

Even with all these potential issues, Trinity Western University relational life coach and mentor Sue Rhea doesn’t condemn intergenerational couples.

The problems mentioned here can also occur with more closely aged couples. In Rhea’s experience, most marriage issues are not age-related at all, but have to do rather with personality, communication or expectations.

“I don’t believe that a large age gap should be a deal breaker. One should be looking at character, spiritual compatibility and intellectual compatibility. A large age gap can bring wisdom, financial security, and emotional maturity that would not otherwise be there.”

Perhaps Rhea is right. After all, Adam was not aware of Eve’s age when he first laid eyes on her. He only knew that she was his perfect match. She was “it.”

Flickr photo (cc) by Pedro Ribeiro Simões